So I took to big of a bite...

Dmitri Scheidel

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Northern California
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NorCali.Pilot
Hello everyone!
This is my first post here. Another member of the aviation community recommended I drop by here and check it out. I've read some posts and I really like it.

ANYWAYS... I took to big of a bite for my first solo cross country last week (July 27), which is also the extended cross country with 2 other stops. My plan was to go from my base at Concord, CA (KCCR) to Monterey, CA (KMRY) then to Modesto, CA (KMOD).
I use a sim for my at home training and I have a addon scenery its called for Monterey, California. I live here in Northern California just east of San Francisco, so I thought it would be cool to try to navigate around San Francisco's Class B airspace and go to Monterey regional airport as my first stop. I'm not endorsed to fly into B airspace so I plotted my flight to go east to Livermore country (KLVK) then over some VFR check points to San Jose (SJC) then direct to Monterey (KMRY). It was all set and planned out and looked really nice on paper.

One hour before I got the plane, my CFI sat down with me and we went over the whole plan. He was concerned that it may be a bit hard because of a TFR that has been active 3nm. south of Monterey airport for fires (it's fire season in California... and this will play a key role in what went wrong if you are starting to piece it together). But I told him that winds are from the South so they will be using the runways so that I will enter the traffic pattern away from the fires and he said okay. (now since im typing this, I realize why what happened happened) And with that he endorsed me to fly the long XC and I was off on my own.

Start up, taxi, run up was all smooth until I called ready for departure. I will admit, I was being a little c@cky on the radios and wasn't using the same words for read backs. Tower told me to line up and wait 32L and I called back (position and hold), right after they cleared a plane to land 32L so I swerved back onto the taxiway and asked if I was supposed to enter the runway. Tower said yes and defined taxi into position and hold for me. (a plane was over the number 32L so I thought there was going to be a runway incursion.) On the upwind towered asked my for my direction of flight, I got nervous and Said south on a heading of 158o. I now know that wasn't correct wording. After a minute or so I called for a freq. change and got cleared to the next freq. Here's the next thing that went wrong. Since I'm in the cluster that is the bay area, there are TONS of frequencies that are in use. All of the training flights have been to the North, and we usually contact Travis AFB approach for initial flight following. This was my first time going south, and Travis doesn't reach there, so I had to use a new freq. that was on the sectional which was NorCal app. I called up, did a position report and got flight following and everything was set...

A few minutes later, I saw a layer of haze (surprise, the smoke from the fires!!) just over Livermore and thought nothing of it and continued, then the visibility started to drop slowly. First I lost sight of the Santa Cruz mountains about 30nm away (I'm used to being able to see extremely far as weather North of Concord is always clear skies, which is what the south was reporting, but this layer of smoke/ haze was new). Then the controller called me up and reported traffic in my area, I couldn't see because visibility was decreasing, in total, 3 aircraft were in my area, and I only saw the 1 Southwest 737.) I was right over Livermore airport at 3,500FT (planned alt was 7,500 but the haze was worse up there so I tried lower but ended up lower than the terrain I had to cross) when I hit it hard and didn't see anything. I was in defined IMC. So I executed a level 180 turn and got out of there, of course NorCal app called me out on the radio and said to not due that ever because he is directing traffic. And I made my way back to KCCR. I had a minute and decided to text my insructor telling him I'm heading back. He said so way I could of been in IMC because all airports in the area are skies clear and vis. +10 miles.

Ultimately, sure, I could of pushed on to KMRY with near legal minimums, but I'm a low hour student pilot, it was my first time flying south, there was traffic close to me I couldn't see, I was too low to be able to clear the upcoming terrain, I was alone, I was dealing with many frequencies, my whole flight plan was visual references (that were masked by the smoke), and it was later in the day. I know I should of taken the southern winds as an indication that the smoke would be right in my flight path, and should of called up 1800.WX.Brief for conditions, but that is a service I don't know how to use very well.

I know it's long but a lot happened, but I hope others can learn from what I did and not end up in the situation that I was in where I was somewhere new in really bad conditions.

*photo posted is right before I entered the smoke. It is what I initially saw*
 

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Ha, that's outstanding visibility here in the Great Lakes.
 
You did almost everything right. Only critique i would give is, in busy airspace, at least let ATC know what you are doing. You were VFR, so you CAN do whatever you want, but its better to let them know. Second, never, ever fly into diminishing visibility on purpose until you get an instrument rating.
 
Sounds like you exercised good judgement in turning back to me. Better than get-there-itis and getting in deeper.
 
Hi Dimtri. Welcome. And thanks for sharing. This is a great example of how few little things can add up and before you know it, you have a big problem on your hands. Great work in recognizing when you were in over your head and using your training to get out of a dangerous situation. The controller can chew you out if he wants, but he is sitting safely on the ground. You did what you were trained to do and you walked away with some real experience.
 
Dmitri, good ADM. You saw a problem that piled up and you solved it. REMEMBER THAT FEELING. It might save your life one day. (or you might feel it already has)

Take a breather, recap the events and realize that you did what you were taught to do, make a go/no-go decision, even on-the-fly (pun intended).
If ATC gives you hard time again (can't blame them in such a busy airspace), tell them "for safety" so that they understand you have no choice. You can also go a step further and ask what they would prefer (as far as altitude etc), it can help them help you.

Glad you're back on the ground and in one piece. There have been people who pressed on in the past and aren't here to talk about it. :(
 
You did the right thing. You're the PIC so you have the last word as to what you choose to do. ATC should understand, even though you are around class Bravo airspace. They don't fly the airplane you do.
 
Thanks everyone for the feed back. I should probably admit that when I did return back to KCCR, I did some touch and go's and landed, and while pushing the plane back into its spot, a fluid line on the nose strut burst and the plane fell on its nose. No cause determined, all landings were made on the main gear that day.

If that had happened in MRY or MOD, I wouldn't be here sharing this either.
 
you didn't call for a weather briefing on your solo xc???? how does your instructor let you get away with that? I have to assume you did some other form of online briefing but still, I figured that would be mandatory prior to a solo xc.
 
you didn't call for a weather briefing on your solo xc???? how does your instructor let you get away with that? I have to assume you did some other form of online briefing but still, I figured that would be mandatory prior to a solo xc.
I didn't call them on my long xc, I have called them for a brief once, on my short XC, it was weird, had a guy read me the weather that I had just reviewed online. I do like their web site though.
 
Well, haze from a distance looks a lot worse than it actually is. Friday, there WAS some IMC near Salinas, but Monterey is pretty clear. The plume formed fairly well defined edges, that could be easily dodged. But inside, you couldn't see the ground from 6000, so it was under 1 mile visibility. I got a clearance to land at Salinas, and logged an approach I hadn't expected.

You almost certainly could have made it to Monterey, provided you altered your course and altitude to avoid the plume. But deciding not to go is always a legit option if you feel it isn't safe, even if you're wrong.

It's hard to tell from a photo, but I think you were looking at 5-8 miles visibility. Almost certainly much less than the 50+ miles you're used to, but plenty.

And ALWAYS get a weather briefing. ALWAYS. Especially when operating near a TFR.

And before you think it's always clear at CCR, I've taken flights out of there VFR in 4 miles visibility. An inversion can trap all kinds of crap in that valley.

S*** happens in student long cross countries. I think that's the point. On mine, I overflew a precautionary landing (at TCY), and NorCal freaked out when they lost contact, so I relayed. The DME failed in flight, so I had to replan with a sectional and plotter, finding cross-radials. I contacted FAT clearance delivery thinking it was for clearance through Class C (they graciously set me straight). And I got cut off in the pattern on my return to PAO when the pilot behind me executed a base turn called for me.
 
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You made the right call at the time if you were not comfortable although most of your concerns will ease with time and experience.

You were fumbling for the NorCal frequency for FF in the air. If you are at a towered airport you can ask ground to establish FF for you before you even take off then it is simply a handoff on departure. Some towers can, some can not... if they can not, they can provide you the correct frequency for your direction of flight. Either way, you can load that frequency into standby once you switch to tower for takeoff clearance before you are wheels up so it is as simple as a button push on your climb out. I much prefer that as it decreased workload in the air. They will let you know when to change frequencies, you do not need to ask.

On the traffic alerts and 180...yes, you are VFR and can fly what you want but in that situation is is always good to let ATC know your intentions. If you can not see traffic, all you need is "negative contact". I have asked them "still negative contact, do I need to change course?".

Best thing my CFI taught me was to ALWAYS use the term "student pilot" or "new pilot" with EVERY controller. They will slow down and take the extra time to make sure you understand everything...otherwise they may assume you are a seasoned Jet Jockey.
 
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I made the same exact call last Saturday. I was flying into the plume and visibility kept decreasing all the way up to 12,000 ish. I looked to the right and to the left and I could see it closing in, despite ATIS at Salinas saying it was clear. I even heard another pilot asking for conditions at Monterey since he was seeing the same nonsense I was seeing. There was no way I'm going to end up on the news, so even if I could have continued on in MVFR, I wasn't going to risk ending up in IMC. I told Norcal I was turning around and I got out of there.

n retrospect I *probably* would have been fine... but *probably* isn't good enough for me at this point in my flying career. I didn't know if the ATIS just hadn't been updated to reflect the crappy vis, or if maybe it was IMC between me and Salinas even though I was beginning my descent. I also didn't want to get in there only to turn around and get trapped.

You made the right call. Especially on your long xc as a student pilot. Good for you.
 
S*** happens in student long cross countries. I think that's the point. On mine, I overflew a precautionary landing (at TCY), and NorCal freaked out when they lost contact, so I relayed. The DME failed in flight, so I had to replan with a sectional and plotter, finding cross-radials. I contacted FAT clearance delivery thinking it was for clearance through Class C (they graciously set me straight). And I got cut off in the pattern on my return to PAO when the pilot behind me executed a base turn called for me.
I think you and me are twins when it comes to goofing up in flight. I've mixed up ground/tower freq so much when pressing between COM1/COM2.

Best thing my CFI taught me was to ALWAYS use the term "student pilot" or "new pilot" with EVERY controller. They will slow down and take the extra time to make sure you understand everything...otherwise they may assume you are a seasoned Jet Jockey.
I did, which is probably why they didn't ask me "do you have a pen and piece of paper" and just called me out for it.


n retrospect I *probably* would have been fine... but *probably* isn't good enough for me at this point in my flying career. I didn't know if the ATIS just hadn't been updated to reflect the crappy vis, or if maybe it was IMC between me and Salinas even though I was beginning my descent. I also didn't want to get in there only to turn around and get trapped.
Thank you. And I bet I would of been fine to. But I was too low to clear the Santa Cruz mountains, I couldn't divert too much because of the Class B and the whole ATC situation was too over whelming. But Monterey will be there another day.
 
Umm, it's entirely possible to get from CCR to MRY at 2000, let alone 3500. Study your sectional. You don't have to fly in a straight line. If you fly how you would drive (680/101/68), the highest terrain is 1000 MSL. If you're feeling adventurous, plot out a course where ALL the terrain is at sea level. Yes, it's possible, though you have to clear three bridges, plus the tank farm just north of CCR.

Class B is not a significant factor south of Sunol. By the time you reach the Santa Cruz Mountains, it's long gone.
 
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I did, which is probably why they didn't ask me "do you have a pen and piece of paper" and just called me out for it.

Nah. Unless you really did bust the minimum VFR visibility requirements for the airspace you were in (and I don't think you did from the photo), then you did nothing technically wrong anyway. Can't see why a controller would want to talk to you later. But I'm not a controller.
 
I did, which is probably why they didn't ask me "do you have a pen and piece of paper" and just called me out for it.

Nah. Unless you really did bust the minimum VFR visibility requirements for the airspace you were in (and I don't think you did from the photo), then you did nothing technically wrong anyway. Can't see why a controller would want to talk to you later. But I'm not a controller.


Agreed. Unless you were given an altitude restriction or heading, you are free to fly where you want when you want...HOWEVER...being on FF in my view is a two way street. I am happy to be a part of the system...they help look out for traffic for me and I will happily stay outta the way of their IFR traffic. Noting you did warranted a number to call other than going against the controller expectations and anticipations when dealing with possible traffic conflicts.

"NorCal, Skyhawk 12345, heading back to Concord due to decreased visibility" would have made them happy. They just wanna know what to expect and your intentions.
 
Sounds like good decision making. With more experience, which you now have, you could have told NorCal that you were returning then made your turn and still stayed well clear of real imc. I am basing this on the photo you posted, not sure if you took the photo well before turning.

As reference, I fly out of rhv, the smoke has been a pain. Feel bad for the folks displaced by the fire. The other day I was flying in what was reported 6sm visibility. Easy peasy in one direction, then i was returning into setting sun. Now I had smoke/haze and bright sun. My point, weather is multi faceted and should be respected. I had a learning moment on my long xc (related to being low and behind a mountain and not being to reach atc) and you learned something too. Good to turn before imc, just make a quick call if talking to someone and able, aviate - navigate- communicate in that order. You can tell them, they can't say no but, they could say turn east or west to avoid traffic, which is helpful for you, them and the other traffic. We are lucky with our weather out here. Best of luck with the rest of your training.
 
If you're used to 50+ miles visibility, a little haze really looks bad. I was limited by my instructor to 5 miles vis when I was a solo student. (I'm in central Florida so 20+ vis is CAVU and only happens in winter...). Here's a picture of 5 miles vis (after I was certificated, my then 6yo daughter was not my instructor ;) ).
DSC_0141.JPG


We are only 2500 feet up and you can barely see the ground out her window. But it's reasonable VFR weather.

John
 
Dimitri, using student pilot in your call up is going to help in tough situations. I never did ... but I don't have your type airspace in west Texas.;)
 
What a little cutie John. You're going to be in trouble in 9 years or so.

<----- father of identical twin daughters who attract more attention than dad likes to see.
 
What a little cutie John. You're going to be in trouble in 9 years or so.

<----- father of identical twin daughters who attract more attention than dad likes to see.
She's 17 now. And yes she's cute. I just sit on the front porch cleaning my .45. :D
 
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